Through My Eyes

My Sister’s Struggle with Addiction and how it Affected My Family

By Kitty Noir

When I was younger I watched my older sister struggle through an active heroin addiction. I watched her lose everything, emotionally and physically. I watched her manipulate my parents and get away with a lot. I watched as my parents gave her chance after chance, as their hearts broke a little more with each chance. I watched my parents live in denial even when her addiction was literally knocking on their front door. They still denied it, and it ate away at them slowly. In Fact, they still live somewhat in denial of her lifestyle today. I did not really understand the extent of what was happening until I look back on it as an adult. I have a lot of unresolved feelings about the situation but have grown to understand that it isn’t about me, but that doesn’t invalidate what I went through as a sibling of an addict. My younger brother has a lot of resentment towards my older sister, and my parents, because of how everything played out. I can honestly say I do not blame him. As most of us know, addiction doesn’t just affect the addict, it also affects their loved ones. Not many people are closer to an addict then their immediate family.

My older sister was a star in our small hometown. She was an outstanding athlete and a decent student. She was the freshman who made the varsity teams. She lettered all four years in three different sports. My sister was all-state in volleyball and softball and was built to lead. My mother lived out her dreams through my sister. She put a lot of undue pressure on her to become a great athlete and earn a full ride scholarship for volleyball. My mother was an all-state athlete growing up and definitely wanted her children to follow in her steps. I think she saw the greatest potential in my sister so she really pushed her hard. I suppose all that pressure was stressful to my sister. Pressure from her coaches, pressure from my mother, and I assume the pressure she put on herself because of her perfectionist tendencies. She wanted to live up to all the expectations she felt that everyone had for her. On the outside she seemed very comfortable with all the attention she received, but I think on the inside it just became too much. Everyone has a breaking point and eventually she reached hers.

When she was in 8th grade she started hanging out with a new, older group of friends who also played sports. By ninth grade she was smoking pot regularly and had started to experiment with alcohol. She must have really liked the release that using gave her because it didn’t take long before she had tried almost every recreational drug out there and turned into quite the party goer. Throughout her using she was able to maintain her outstanding sports performances and although her grades did slip, she will still an above average student. I cannot tell you how many times my parents caught my sister with drugs and just looked the other way. Every time she would promise them that she would stop and it was just for “fun.” My mother and her would get into a huge argument, then my mother would comfort herself with her denial, and then life would go on. This was a constant cycle. Looking back, I suppose I cannot blame my mother because my sister was very manipulative. She was great at convincing people by telling them exactly what they wanted to hear. Her manipulation combined with my mother not wanting to admit that her outstanding athlete daughter also had a drug problem was a recipe for disaster. My sister graduated high school with a full ride scholarship to a prestigious university in our home state for a pre-med degree. Everyone looked the other way at the underlying issue; her addiction. She left for school in August. By December the coached had called my parents to let them know that she wasn’t showing up for practice and was displaying some concerning behavior. My parents talked with her and of course everything was back on track after that (so they told themselves). The following February my sister had switched her major out of pre-med because her grades had dropped so low she was no longer accepted in that specific program. By May she was kicked off the volleyball team and had lost her full ride scholarship. She came home with nothing. She had sold every single one of her personal belongings. All of them. Her laptop, all her clothes, her bed, her car, everything. The one thing she brought with her was a raging heroin addiction.

Her boyfriend of four years had left, and all her friends from high school were still off at college. It only continued to go downhill from there. My parents continued to support her, even after she crashed two of the cars they had gotten her and stole money from me. My parents offered to send her to rehab but she refused. They allowed her to live at the house but incidents kept happening and eventually my parents kicked her out. This was only after her dealer showed up on our family’s doorstep with a gun and threatened my mother. She moved to Washington and lived in a tent with her new boyfriend. She was doing what she needed to get by at that point. Working in a club to support her habit. She started muling drugs for her boyfriend and made some enemies along the way. She called my parents begging for help. She told them her life was in danger and they allowed her to come home on the condition that she get treatment. She agreed.

While she was in treatment her counselors suggested that our family go to therapy as well. Our family unit was in shambles. My brother and I were resentful towards my sister for putting my parents, and our family, through everything. We did not understand why she got all this attention every time she screwed up. We felt extra pressure to never make a mistake because she was making so many of them. It felt like even though we did everything “right”, it still was not enough in their eyes. My parent’s marriage was falling apart. My dad had started to see right through my sister’s manipulation but my mother just couldn’t see past it. He was pushing my mother to do the “tough love” thing and she just kept enabling my sister. My dad had threatened to take us younger kids and leave my mother if she didn’t stop living in denial. She was codependent on my sister’s addiction. We were a mess, and we needed just as much help as my sister to pull through this. It has taken years for everyone to heal from having a member of our family struggling with active addiction. Countless hours in therapy. Not only individual therapy but also family therapy.

Today my sister has been clean for almost ten years. I am so proud of her. The road to recovery has not been easy for her. She has relapsed many times but by the power of god she has been able to get back on track with her sobriety each time. She has a renewed sense of love for life. I can imagine being in the depths of an addiction that bad that she has a new appreciation for living. My family thanks god every day that she has been able to become sober. We have all mended our relationship with her and it feels good to be a functional family unit once again. She tells me that she takes her sobriety one day at a time, even after almost ten years sober. She has become an active member of the recovery community and helps newly recovered people navigate their world sober. She is currently enrolled in college again to become a licensed therapist. Helping others is something she feels passionate about and I know that she will be great. She was always meant for great things, and now she has found a way to serve god and others by helping people who are recovering from addiction.

Grief

grief loved ones and addiction

In my experience grief means to learn acceptance. Learning to accept someone or something lost.

Maybe the loss was a loved one, a pet, or even a car. Although some grief feels stronger, all mourning holds common ground. During my transition from being an active addict to an addict in recovery grief was the one topic I had no desire in touching. I believed if I ignored the hurt somehow it would disappear. My grief became a part of me, locked to the deepest part of my core. If I was capable of masking such trauma no one would be able to make me relive the heartache. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the key to peace would be found in reliving that moment over and over. Addiction stole my life from me in more ways than one. It stole my family, my sanity, my innocence, my possessions, everything I stood for.

Unfortunately addiction also took my love and best friend. It was June 20th when I received the phone call. As I heard the words “Nathan has overdosed” slowly break away from his sisters quivering lips I turned cold and dropped to my knees. While I sat in the car on the way to the hospital the rage subsided and disbelief began to take over. The world became still, dark, I too had died. As his body laid motionless in the hospital bed; I remember the exact position of the equipment, the way his lips felt cold, the sound of him gasping for air while on life support. I laid beside him and wept while I kissed his perfect face, begging for him to stay. I promised I would keep him safe. Just after midnight God had plans of his own and called him home

I went into rehab unable to process the grief, convincing myself that his death didn’t truly happen. I distorted my own reality by saying he was either in jail or away playing lacrosse. In dismissing my feelings I shut out his family who was my own, I became angry, and could no longer find happiness. I battled with my grief for three years and never spoke a word. As his fourth year death anniversary approached I felt the inability to hide from the sadness I carefully buried. The pain hit me, suddenly and hard. I spent months crying, unable to get out of bed, questioning everything leading to the event when I finally caught a glimpse of relief. The memories of our seven years spent together came flooding back and I enjoyed reliving every day with him. The sadness of losing Nathan has not lessened nor has it gotten easier but it has become bearable. Once I decided to replace sorrow with love, I started to heal.

Throughout my journey with grief I’ve learned many different things, one being the inability to compare loss. Understanding one’s underlying distress can be attempted but never genuinely felt. This is what individualizes grief making each case its own. Another key point I found helpful was recognizing that there is no correct way to grieve. In the beginning I ignored the pain by pushing it further down and allowed the fury to consume me. It took me years to realize that allowing myself to grieve meant I was brave, strong, and capable of letting the suffering go. Initially I thought accepting loss meant I was allowing the loss to become real, that it was okay. I felt I was welcoming the idea of no longer having that physical love. I questioned myself as to why I would consider accepting such loss. In questioning myself I found that I didn’t “want” acceptance but “needed” it.

I spent endless nights wondering if there was something I should’ve or could’ve done to prevent his death, but there wasn’t. In doing this I destroyed myself in thinking if I got into the car two seconds earlier, I could have prevented the overdose. If he would have answered the phone or even brushed his teeth for an extra minute, he wouldn’t be gone. Maybe the two extra minutes could have saved him. Maybe the loss was inevitable or maybe his life would have been taken the next day for a different reason.

I strongly believe the beauty of the world would disappear if mankind had the ability to control heartache. Lessons wouldn’t be of value. I now remind myself I am only human, not intended to be perfect. Nor am I intended to comprehend how or why death happens. Today I understand I am only capable of damage control. I can either choose suffering or I can choose to be in control. After all, grief is the price paid for loving so much. What would loss mean if love wasn’t attached? It would be considered a win. Losing something or someone meaningless show no attachment. I chose to embrace the ebb and flow of every unseen wave while learning to swim.

I am able to relive the pain because I chose to control my grief, not allow the grief to control me. Accepting loss isn’t hard, it’s quite possibly the most traumatic lifelong roller coaster one can endure. I loved hard but I lost even harder. Love covered all of my offenses and most importantly it changed me. Would I be happier if I could avoid grief all together? The answer is no. If loss meant I was given the opportunity to love I would do it all over. I’m happy I was able to love Nathan for as long as I did.

LEARN MORE ABOUT DEALING WITH ADDICTION

Recovery isn’t just about sobriety, it is about living life on life’s terms and becoming responsible and productive. After an often lifelong struggle with addiction, many people find themselves without some of the basic skills to make their lives comfortable and happy.

At Broadway Treatment Center we are equipped with a compassionate and highly trained staff, where we can help you address these issues. Their first priority is making sure our clients are comfortable and on the right path to recovery. We have many different program tracks, amenities, and approaches to addiction recovery. This allows us to treat a wide range of patients, we truly have something for everyone. Please give us a call today at 714-443-8218 to speak with one of our addiction counselors, or visit our website at www.broadwaytreatmentcenter.com.